By now, you have likely heard that the Sunday Telegraph reported the head of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs was going to appoint herself as an alien ambassador, or something like that. You have also likely heard that this story is completely bogus. But some quarters of the media love to beat up on the United Nations just for the sport of it. So even after the story is proven false, you have articles like this:
The New American posts a story titled, “UN May Appoint Ambassador to Outer Space.”
The National Post of Canada runs a story titled “The UN Finds its Niche: Little Green Men” in which the author admits the story is bogus, but devotes an entire column to its significance.
The Economist titles a post, “The UN’s Secretive Alien Ambassador,” which opens: “it emerged that the UN was set to appoint a Malaysian astrophysicist called Mazlan Othman to lead international efforts to respond to visitors from outer space.”
Fox News at least titles its item “U.N Denies Appointing ‘First Contact’ for Visiting Space Aliens,” which includes a statement from the UN calling the story “nonsense.”
I write about the United Nations everyday so this story seemed transparently unbelievable from the outset. Then I saw the source was the Sunday Telegraph–not exactly the most rigorously accurate wag–so I figured my instincts were correct.
Besides, a UN bureaucrat can’t just appoint him or herself ambassador to anything — let alone to space aliens. These kinds of agencies derive their budget and mandate from the General Assembly. Right now, the mandate of the Office for Outer Space Affairs is mostly focused on things like coordinating space debris mitigation efforts. Even if the UN wanted to create a position of Alien Ambassador within that office, the General Assembly would have to approve it. I don’t exactly see that happening anytime soon.
This episode just goes to show how the media is full of people who have no idea how the UN works but are nonetheless willing to let their biases drive their coverage.
UPDATE: I see that the Washington Times got into the game yesterday as well with an editorial mocking the UN for appointing an Alien Ambassador. The editorial concludes:
Late reports indicated that the United Nations might not actually be seeking to expand its mandate beyond the stratosphere. But the fact that the story was so readily accepted underscores the reputation of the world body as a center for triviality and bureaucratic excess.
Actually, it underscores how dumb our media can be sometimes!